As people who love trees, plants and the great outdoors we want to make sure we are doing everything we can to care for our planet AND give our plants the best! Do you want to reduce waste and improve your garden? Well, composting is an excellent way to recycle organic matter that can be used as a soil amendment or fertilizer.

We know that in some areas, the soil is poor to average. One reason that you may be dealing with poor soil is due to the practice of clear-cutting trees and bulldozing away the topsoil, which makes the remaining soil too compacted and conditions too harsh for roots to grow. If you live in such an area, composting may help you regain what has been lost or depleted in order to benefit your yard while also reducing the amount of garbage added to landfills.

In recent years, composting has greatly increased due to the popularity of organic farming. And don’t worry — composting isn’t a super complicated process! It can be as simple as forming a pile of leaves and other organic green material in a corner of the yard and turning it every so often. Or you can create a more complex system to monitor temperature, moisture, oxygen, carbon, and other ingredients. Whichever route you take, it’s hard to go wrong with composting, because it closely mimics what nature does and the benefits are impressive.

There are four necessary elements for composting: water, oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon. The availability of these four factors, along with the right ratio and timing. Basically composting is working to duplicate nature’s technique of breaking down organic matter to unlock and recycle nutritional benefits into the soil, making them available for uptake by living root systems.

The heavy lifting in composting is performed by tiny microorganisms that are tasked with breaking down organic matter. Your goal as a good composter is to make the conditions right for these microorganisms to multiply and get to work. In order for them to thrive, your compost needs to have the right ratio of the four components.

The process of composting uses a lot of oxygen and water as it produces heat and releases steam. Oxygen must be replaced through aeration which is achieved by turning the compost frequently. While you can purchase tumbling equipment for your compost, you can also turn it the old-fashioned way—with a pitchfork.

Water must be replenished periodically, either by rainfall or the garden hose. While water and oxygen play vital roles, nitrogen- and carbon-rich organic matter are the key components of compost. The ratio of carbon to nitrogen should be at least two to one. Carbon comes from mulched wood, sawdust, corn, paper, ashes, pine needles, and dry leaves while nitrogen-rich materials include fruit and vegetable scraps, grass, weeds, coffee grounds, chicken poop, and most green vegetation. While in no way an exhaustive list, it is a good place to start. The ingredients of compost must be organic. Do not add processed food scraps or meat. Also the smaller the items, the more quickly they will break down.

Unless you’ve purchased a composting container, you can start your pile directly on the dirt to attract worms and other natural composters, such as microorganisms. You should add fresh compost directly to the pile on a regular basis and mix it in rather than just leaving it in a pile on top.

Covering your compost will help prevent it from getting too soggy during torrential downpours. But do not cover it so tightly that it does not allow for air movement. Erecting a canopy a foot or so above it works well.

Once your yard waste and table scraps have turned into nutrient-rich compost, you can add it to your garden beds. You can also place a one-inch layer over your trees’ root zones and then cover that with another inch or two of wood-chip mulch. Furthermore, an Air-Spade™ (a specialized tool that blows compressed air at an extremely high velocity) can be used to blend the compost into the trees’ root zones prior to placing the wood-chip mulch on top.

Composting is a productive way to enrich your landscape environment and help reduce our impact on landfills. Give it a try this year! Your garden is likely to thank you.